Gargi Raut ∙ Mar 14 2023, 12:30 PM

A captain in exile: Cricket South Africa sets a horrific trend 

image-lf81cwbpDane van Niekerk [Source: Twitter]

Passion never dulls; but people do. A lot has to happen in order for a person to feel like they cannot stand the thought of something that they once used to live for. It takes gut-wrenching moments of re-building and re-igniting the spark that has been extinguished. This is the story of the former South African captain Dane van Niekerk. 

A heart-breaking news comes out of Cricket South Africa as Niekerk announces her retirement. A tussle that ended in elimination, it's not the first time a player has ended up losing herself while fighting for a place in the squad.

History repeats itself, but so often? so soon? and at the same place?

Dane van Niekerk: A captain in exile 

An inspirational career that ended in a way you wouldn’t even wish on your worst enemy. Dane injured herself while trying to feed her dogs on a rainy afternoon, a mis-step that resulted in a broken ankle and cost her her career. 

While trying to make a comeback for the 2023 World Cup, Dane lost her place in the team because she overshot the 2km run test by 18 seconds. South Africa ended up losing the World Cup at home, their most successful ODI captain and a passionate soul. 

It’s almost as if CSA was tolerating Dane’s hard work, her talent and her loyalty instead of celebrating it. 

"I promised the team the strongest, leanest Dane they've had in many years and I gave them that, but I guess it was unfortunately not enough." - Dane van Niekerk 

In an attempt to get to her fittest, leanest and strongest version, Dane took the wrong path; as we all do when life feels like a passing crowd and you're trying your best to not get trampled. Dane was running everyday but not eating anything. She knew she had to lose 10 kgs. But it did nothing. The scale on the weighing machine never moved and neither did her resolve. 

"I got despondent. I didn't know what's going on. I'm working hard, I'm not eating, You become despondent" - Dane van Niekerk 

I wouldn't ever want anyone to relate to something like that. But I do. I remember being 19, at my skinniest and being told that I needed to weigh 45 kgs. Being told something like that as a player does something to you. When you're told that the only reason you're not good enough is because you weigh more or look a certain way. It's a pivotal moment in any player's life because then the sport is no longer about enjoying the game or yourself. It starts only being about making it to a team or looking a certain way. You start doing anything possible to not feel not good enough. You get lost in the crowd, you get wasted like all of your potential. 

Dane was diagnosed with PCOS in the thick of mental healing. Making it harder to lose weight. She eventually made it to the fitness test, set her record best, but her best wasn't enough. She missed the 2km run test by 18 seconds. The 18 seconds that will haunt her for the rest of her life.  

Lizelle Lee: Another top player taken for granted 

The South African top order batter was at the top of her form when she retired. You'd think she didn't pass her fitness tests or didn't run well but no. Lee passed all of her fitness tests, was at the top of her form but was left out of the squad because she was a bit overweight. 

Lee had openly talked about her struggle with her weight and that no matter how much she toiled physically she was unable to lose the weight. Her fitness should have never come into question because till the very end she was passing all the running tests that a lean athlete from the same team was. 

Is cricket gender sensitive?

If anything all of this just reminds me of how backward Women's Cricket is. It doesn't facilitate or take into consideration hormones or the multiple factors that come into play in the female anatomy. 

Female bodies are complex which make it harder for them to lose weight. Physiologically it takes longer for female bodies to gain muscle and lose weight.

If you're a female athlete and you are eating healthy and having 3 meals a day, chances are that the way you look is exactly how your body is designed to look; without starvation and excessive exertion. 

Like I mentioned above, even when I was at the peak of my fitness, practicing 6 hours a day and was eating the healthiest possible meals, I was not skinny or lean. But I was at my strongest and my healthiest. 

The experience doesn't only restrict to cricket. Many female athletes, especially runners have been forced by their coaches or trainers to lose an unhealthy amount of weight which more often than not resulted in them losing their period. Which is a serious indication of calorie restriction and hormone production, in turn causing severe depression and mental health issues. 

Begging the question. Sports hasn't still warmed up to the idea of gender sensitisation. Being lean still equals being fit.